"Ryu Soma is a big stupidhead!"—Hattie
Sometimes we walk in late to shows, trying to figure out what is going on, and hoping that the whole business on screen seems intriguing enough that we want to go back and fill in the earlier episodes. For instance, I began watching Buffy in its fifth season, then caught up with the reruns on basic cable. My wife began Babylon 5 after the Shadow War had wound itself up, but got hooked and watched it all again from the beginning.
So, I gave Argento Soma a chance. Every chance in the world. But I could see it was going to go badly for me from the opening credits. Angel motif? Oh no, I smelled the effluvia of Evangelion. Mysterious aliens who harbor some eschatological secret? Now, it was starting to piss me off.
Worse, when I got to the actual show, I found that the Evangelion bits, packaged in the form of a friendly organic mecha named Frank, was not even developed enough to sustain the entire show by itself. Instead, most of the show looked remarkably like Macross.
Maybe I need to explain. In the near future, aliens attack the Earth. A team of ace pilots in convertible mecha take to the skies in order to save the world. Their best pilot is Ryu Soma. Ryu was once another man, Takuto, who was killed in an accident with his lady-love Maki, but has been resurrected by a would-be Mephistopheles with a sinister agenda. Meanwhile, there is a squealing blonde teen who has some mysterious bond with the turncoat alien Frank, who looks suspiciously like he rummaged through Hideaki Anno's design sketches. So the creators get to combine an Evangelion premise (organic mech whose real motives are suspect) with Macross (oversized alien exercises his moral conscience and joins our side). Of course, the flat art design—and the characters' hairstyles—suggest the producers want us to see this show as an '80s throwback, rather than a '90s one.
I sort of like that word: throwback. Because that's exactly what I would like to do to Argento Soma. I want to throw it back at Sunrise. Did they write this one up during a coffee break? Nothing about this show is original. The characters are so dull that I could not even recall most of their names after the disc was over. And the show is so inconsistent in tone and premise that it cannot even muster enough enthusiasm to embrace its clichés and have a little fun. Other recent formulaic shows in this alien invasion genre (RahXephon or Geneshaft, for instance) at least try to generate some energy of their own, diving headlong into battle in spite of their lack of originality. Such shows can be fun, at least the first time around, even if their probably are not worth shelling out the ridiculous prices companies like Bandai charge for anime in this country.
Argento Soma plods. It mopes. It oozes and then lays on the floor inert. You will too, if you watch too much of it. I feel lethargic after one disc. Maybe the producers named the protagonist "Soma" intentionally. Like the prescription drug (or the narcotic in Brave New World, this show can send you right to sleep.
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